New from A Reel of One’s Own by Andrea Thompson: Toronto International Film Festival 2019: Knives Out

By Andrea Thompson

Sinister music? Check. Formidable mansion? Check. With fog? Check. Dogs? Check. In slow motion no less. “Knives Out” is clearly making a few promises; the question is whether it will keep them. Whether it does is subjective, and clearly dependent on how much you value the biggest staples of the whodunit.

The murder mystery is the death of mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), the patriarch of a wealthy family. His death appears to be a suicide…or is it? It’s hard to do keep up the suspense for this kind of thriller in the modern era, but “Knives Out” mostly makes it work, thanks in part to its central character. Marta (Ana de Armas) is not only an outsider, she’s considered part of the family in the way a member of The Help generally is when they’re pleasing to the rich. She was Harlan’s nurse and confidant, which makes her privy to much of the family secrets.

Because as much as its various members endeavor to paint a rosy picture of unity at the gathering celebrating Harlan’s 85th birthday party, it doesn’t take long for the cracks to show, and for more than one motive to become clear. And once the family realizes the money they counted on is slipping through their fingers, who they really are is revealed. A large part of the mystery is unveiled pretty early on, and as for the rest…well, it’s kind of obvious.

“Knives Out” is enjoyable not just due to performance from the likes of Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, and Jamie Lee Curtis, but for the way others play against type. Daniel Craig kills it as the southern gentleman detective called to investigate, and Chris Evans threatens to run away with the whole film as the most entitled and arrogant member of the Thrombey clan. Rian Johnson, who writes and directs, is also at his best here, as he adds delicious twist after twist in a deceptively fluffy film which doubles as a harsh look at how money changes everything while also advocating for kindness.

Grade: B+

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